Mon, 11 Dec 2023

The EU's executive on Wednesday proposed a new round of sanctions on Moscow over its latest "escalation" in Ukraine, including an oil price cap and ban on Russian exports worth seven billion euros. Read our live blog to see how all the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

This live page is no longer being updated. For more of our coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

2:30am: US announces $1.1 billion more in military aid for Ukraine

The US will provide an additional $1.1 billion in aid to Ukraine, with funding for 18 more advanced rocket systems and other weapons to counter drones that Russia has been using against Ukrainian troops, the Biden administration announced Wednesday.

The latest package is being provided under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which funds contracts to purchase weapons and equipment. And it brings the total of US aid to Ukraine to nearly $17 billion since the Biden administration took office.

The aid announcement comes as Russia moves to annex parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine that held Kremlin-orchestrated referendums on living under Moscow's rule. The votes were denounced by Kyiv and the West as illegal and rigged.

"We will not be deterred from supporting Ukraine, we will continue to stand with the Ukrainian people, and provide them with the security assistance they need to defend themselves, for as long as it takes," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Since the funding is for contracts for weapons and equipment, it is aimed at helping Ukraine secure its longer-term defense needs. It could take a year or two for Ukraine to get the systems. The U.S. has used Pentagon drawdown authority to provide weapons more immediately, and another announcement for that Defense Department aid is expected early next week.

10:42pm: Europe ramps up energy security after suspected sabotage

European companies are ramping up security around pipelines and energy prices are climbing again as the suspected sabotage of two pipelines that deliver natural gas from Russia underscored the vulnerability of Europe's energy infrastructure and prompted the EU to warn of possible retaliation.

Some European officials and energy experts have said Russia is likely to blame for any sabotage - it directly benefits from higher energy prices and economic anxiety across Europe - although others cautioned against pointing fingers until investigators are able to determine what happened.

Russia has sharply curtailed natural gas shipments to Europe in retaliation for sanctions that the West put in place after its invasion of Ukraine. On Wednesday, Russian energy giant Gazprom increased the pressure, threatening on Twitter to cease dealing with a Ukrainian company that controls one of the two remaining pipelines that ship Russian gas to Europe.

Coming on top of the apparent sabotage to the Nord Stream gas pipelines, "that means a major escalation and readiness to escalate," Agata Loskot-Strachota, senior fellow in energy policy at the Center for Eastern Studies in Warsaw, told AP.

10:24pm: Zelensky thanks allies, works phone to rally support

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called a number of foreign leaders on Wednesday as Moscow looked poised to annex a swath of Ukrainian territory and later thanked them for their support.

Zelensky spoke to the leaders of countries including Britain, Canada, Germany and Turkey to press demands for more military aid and tougher sanctions on Moscow after what Kyiv and the West denounced as illegal sham referendums in four partially occupied provinces on Ukraine.

"Thank you all for your clear and unequivocal support. Thank you all for understanding our position," Zelensky said in a late-night video address.

"Ukraine cannot and will not tolerate any attempts by Russia to seize any part of our land."

9:05pm: Finland watching its waters closely after gas pipeline blasts, PM says

Finland is watching its territorial waters very closely following explosions of two Nord Stream gas pipelines, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday.

Marin told reporters that Finland, which shares the EU's longest land border with Russia, considers the explosions "grave news" and "extremely worrying". The pipelines were built by Russia and European partners.

The European Union on Wednesday promised a "robust" response to any intentional disruption of its energy infrastructure after saying it suspected sabotage was behind gas leaks under the Baltic Sea. Russia has also said sabotage was a possibility.

"Finnish authorities and the government is watching the situation very closely. We are monitoring the situation in the Finnish economic area and our territorial waters," Marin said.

8:51pm: US dismisses Moscow's hints of blame for gas leak

Moscow questioned Wednesday whether Washington caused mystery undersea gas pipeline leaks in Europe that have been blamed on sabotage, in a turn of the tables that US officials bluntly called "ridiculous".

The three outflows from the Russia-Germany Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines have sent natural gas prices soaring, exacerbating an energy crunch in Europe as it stands on the threshold of winter and fanning geopolitical tensions.

Swedish intelligence announced it was opening an investigation into the massive leaks in the Baltic Sea, branding them "aggravated sabotage", just hours after the EU called the damage "deliberate".

But the question of who is responsible has prompted high-level finger-pointing, with Moscow charging the United States had already said Nord Stream 2 was "finished" if Russia invaded Ukraine.

Washington dismissed the suggestion, with a spokeswoman for the National Security Council saying: "We all know Russia has a long history of spreading disinformation and is doing it again here."

Among Western allies, suspicion for the leaks has focused on Russia, which has cut gas supplies to Europe in retaliation for severe Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

7:10pm: US announces $1.1 billion in new arms aid for Ukraine

The US has announced a new package of arms and supplies for Ukraine worth $1.1 billion. The package of military orders includes Himars missile systems and ammunition, systems to counter drones, radars and armored vehicles, according to a Pentagon statement.

The package "represents a multi-year investment in critical capabilities to build the enduring strength of Ukraine's Armed Forces" as they continue to battle the invading Russian army, the Pentagon said.

The new package took the total military aid from the US to Ukraine since the Russians invaded on February 24 to $16.2 billion.

It includes 18 more Himars systems, highly accurate missile systems which the Ukrainians have been using effectively since June to hit Russian arms depots and command posts far behind the front lines.

>> Can US-supplied HIMARS be a game changer for Ukraine?

It also includes 150 armored vehicles, 150 tactical vehicles for towing weapons, trucks and trailers, and systems to help Ukraine defend against Russia's Iranian-made drones increasingly deployed on the battlefield.

6:46pm: EU proposes new Russia sanctions

The EU has proposed a new round of sanctions on Russia over its latest "escalation" in Ukraine.

The proposals include an oil price cap and ban on Russian exports worth seven billion euros.

It also plans to expand its travel blacklist and asset freezes to include high-ranking Russian defence officials and organisers of widely derided annexation votes in occupied Ukrainian territories.

"Last week, Russia has escalated the invasion of Ukraine to a new level," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

She listed the "sham" referendums staged by Russia in the occupied regions of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin's "threat to use nuclear weapons".

As part of the new round of sanctions - which has to be signed off by the bloc's 27 nations - the commission is laying out a "legal basis" for a price cap on Russian oil, in line with an agreement by the G7.

It will also look to tighten restrictions on goods flowing from the EU that could help Russia's war machine.

5:05pm: Swedish prosecutor's security unit takes over Nord Stream probe

Sweden's prosecution authority has said its National Security Unit has taken over the preliminary investigation into damage to gas pipelines Nord Stream 1 and 2 in the Baltic Sea.

The unit will handle the probe because "it may be related to a serious crime which, at least partly, may have targeted Swedish national interests" and was possibly carried out by a foreign power, the prosecution authority said in a statement.

2:34pm: Pro-Kremlin head of Zaporizhzhia region 'appeals' to Putin to incorporate it into Russia

The Russian-installed head of the occupied part of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia region, Yevgeny Balitsky, has appealed to President Putin to incorporate the region into Russia, state-owned news agency TASS reported.

Earlier today, the pro-Moscow leaders of Ukraine's Luhansk and Kherson regions called on Putin on to formally annex their territories into Russia.

2:29pm: Nord Stream leaks could see EU gas price caps on the agenda

Reporting from Brussels, FRANCE 24's Dave Keating notes that the cause of the Nord Stream gas pipeline leaks remains a mystery. The latest crisis comes coincidentally as the EU's energy ministers are set to meet on Friday in Brussels. "We may have the [European] Commission adopt a proposal to cap the price of gas. This has been a very controversial proposal - definitely at the start of this week, it did not look like energy ministers would have that on the table for Friday's meeting. But it looks like this recent incident, those explosions in the Baltic Sea, have motivated the commission to propose that gas price cap," explains Keating.

2:06pm: Russia will not give out passports to mobilised people

Moscow will not give out passports to Russians mobilised by the army, a government information portal said Wednesday, as fears of travel restrictions rise and tens of thousands flee the country.

"If a citizen is summoned for army service or received a summons (for mobilisation), he will be refused a passport," the government website said.

It added that those who are not issued a passport will be notified how long the hold will be in place.

Since President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilisation to prop up the Russian army in Ukraine tens of thousands have crossed into neighbouring countries to evade the draft.

Many have feared that men of military age would be barred from leaving the country, with reports that some have already been turned away.

Only a minority of Russians hold a passport that allows them to leave the country.

12:26pm: Russian defence ministry says Ukrainian offensive on Lyman in Donetsk region failed

Russia's defence ministry on Wednesday said that a Ukrainian offensive on the Russian-held town of Lyman in Donetsk region had failed, with 70 Ukrainian soldiers killed.

12:21pm: Norway mobilises police to reinforce oil and gas infrastructure security

Norwegian police have reinforced security around the country's oil and gas installations following the suspected sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines in Swedish and Danish waters, the national police directorate said in a statement on Wednesday. It did not give specifics of measures introduced.

11:15am: Russia reportedly preparing to annex referendum territories

Russia is preparing to annex areas of Ukraine it controls following staged referendums that allegedly endorsed Moscow's rule, media reports said Wednesday.

Western countries have dismissed the votes as a meaningless pretense staged by Moscow in an attempt to legitimise the invasion of Ukraine and its occupation of regions in the east.

It wasn't immediately clear how the administrative process would unfold.

According to Russian media, the next step is for Russia's parliament, the State Duma, to approve an annexation bill formally incorporating the four regions into Russian territory. This could happen as early as Wednesday and would be followed by approval in the upper house.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to declare the Ukrainian regions part of Russia on Friday, according to Russian news agencies.

Russian-installed officials in the occupied regions have said they will ask Putin to incorporate them into Russia. The Russia-backed administrator of the Kherson region published a request on the Telegram app Wednesday asking for incorporation into Russia. Vladimir Saldo said residents of the Kherson region had made "a historic choice" to join Russia.

The Kremlin-backed leader of the Luhansk region, Leonid Pasechnik, made a similar appeal to Putin. Moscow-backed separatists have controlled large portions of Luhansk since 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula.

According to Russia-installed election officials, 93 percent of the ballots cast in the Zaporizhzhia region supported annexation, as did 87 percent in the Kherson region, 98 percent in the Luhansk region and 99 percent in Donetsk.

The so-called referendums follow a pattern that Moscow utilised in Crimea after nationwide street demonstrations saw Ukraine's Kremlin-friendly president ousted.

As in Crimea, observers saw the outcome as a foregone conclusion. Election officials brought ballot boxes door-to-door, in many cases accompanied by armed Russian forces.

10:23am: NATO calls Nord Stream leaks acts of 'sabotage'

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday attributed the leaks on the Nord Stream pipelines to acts of sabotage and said he had discussed the protection of critical infrastructure in NATO countries with the Danish defence minister.

"Discussed the sabotage on the NorthStream pipelines with Defence Minister Morten Bødskov," he said on Twitter.

"We addressed the protection of critical infrastructure in NATO countries."

Norway's Equinor, Europe's largest gas supplier, said on Wednesday it had stepped up security measures at its installations following the suspected sabotage on Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea. "We have increased our emergency preparedness level in Norway by taking security measures at our installations offshore and on land," said a company spokesperson, declining to give specifics.

The Kremlin said Wednesday it was "stupid and absurd" to conclude that Russia was behind gas leaks on the Nord Stream pipelines to Europe.

"It's quite predictable and also predictably stupid to give voice to these kinds of narratives - predictably stupid and absurd," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters after Ukraine said the leaks were a "terrorist attack" by Moscow.

>> EU chief Von der Leyen says 'sabotage' behind Nord Stream pipeline leaks

10:14am: Russian strikes cut power in much of Ukraine's Kharkiv

Russia fired a salvo of missiles at Ukraine's second city Kharkiv overnight, officials said on Wednesday, hitting a railway yard and knocking out power to more than 18,000 households.

Kharkiv Governor Oleg Synegubov said Russian forces had fired S-300 missiles, designed as an anti-aircraft weapon but now often re-purposed to hit civilian infrastructure in Ukrainian cities.

The Kharkiv regional emergency service said the blasts, which were audible in the city centre at around 9pm (1800 GMT) on Tuesday, destroyed an electrical transformer and hit a workshop.

No casualties were reported, but the regional energy company said 18,500 customers in the Shevchenkivsky, Kholodnogirsky and Novobavarsky districts of the city had lost electricity. Kharkiv residents in these districts woke to find their power cut and commuter trams marooned without current in the streets.

At the railway yard, AFP reporters found fire crews extinguishing a fire left by at least two strikes that demolished an office, ripped up some tracks and destroyed two parked wagons. The strike came exactly a week after a similar one that hit a nearby rail freight yard as well as residential blocks and raised fears that Moscow, frustrated in its bid to occupy Kharkiv, is targeting civilian sites.

9:49am: EU slams 'illegal'annexation votes in eastern Ukraine

The EU on Wednesday slammed the "illegal" referendums Russia held in four occupied regions of Ukraine and their "falsified" results, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

"EU denounces holding of illegal 'referenda' and their falsified outcome," Borrell said on Twitter.

This is another violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, amidst systematic abuses of human rights," he said.

European Council President Charles Michel tweeted simply: "Sham referenda. Sham results. We recognize neither."

9:15am: Kyiv urges 'significant' military aid boost after annexation votes

Kyiv on Wednesday called on the West to "significantly" increase its military aid to Ukraine after pro-Kremlin authorities in four Moscow-held regions of Ukraine declared victory in annexation votes.

"Ukraine calls on the EU, NATO and the Group of Seven to immediately and significantly increase pressure on Russia, including by imposing tough sanctions and significantly increase their military aid to Ukraine," Ukraine's foreign ministry said in a statement.

9:00am: Nord Stream leaks a potential 'military situation'

FRANCE 24's Nick Spicer, reporting from Berlin, says there are several ongoing probes into the pipeline leaks.

"What's interesting to note from Germany in particular is that Olaf Scholz, the chancellor of Germany, called the head of NATO to talk about the situation. This isn't just a commercial problem reflecting energy needs," Spicer reports. "It's becoming a military situation as well, potentially, in the future."

8:51am: Russia's Gazprom says it will pump 41.6mcm of natural gas to Europe via Ukraine on Wednesday

Russia's Gazprom said it will pipe 41.6 million cubic metres (mcm) of gas to Europe via Ukraine on Wednesday, slightly down on the 42.4 mcm it has pumped in recent days.

8:39am: EU chief vows 'robust and united response' if Nord Stream pipeline damage is sabotage

The European Union suspects that damage to two underwater natural gas pipelines was sabotage and is warning of retaliation for any attack on Europe's energy networks, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday.

"All available information indicates those leaks are the result of a deliberate act," Borrell said in a statement on behalf of the 27 EU member countries. "Any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is utterly unacceptable and will be met with a robust and united response."

Seismologists reported Tuesday that explosions rattled the Baltic Sea before unusual leaks were discovered on two underwater natural gas pipelines running from Russia to Germany.

8:00am: 'The Ukrainian government has condemned them as absolutely illegal, farcical and a sham'

FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reports from Kyiv on Ukraine's reaction to the Russian-held referendums in the occupied regions of Ukraine, saying that the Ukrainian government has condemned them as farcical, illegal and a sham. The government has also welcomed condemnations issued by Western allies of Russia's actions.

7:16am: Russian defence ministry says newly mobilised reservists begin training in Kaliningrad

Russia's defence ministry said on Wednesday that newly mobilised reservists in the Kaliningrad region have started combat training at the base of Russia's Baltic Fleet.

"All mobilised military personnel comply with the standards for shooting from small arms. In addition, citizens called up from the reserve restore their skills in the operation and maintenance of weapons, military and special equipment," the ministry said on its Telegram channel.

Courses have been also held to increase firing skills and prepare military personnel for "confident actions on the battlefield". President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia's first military mobilisation since World War Two last week, which could see hundreds of thousands more people sent to fight in Ukraine.

Russia has a significant military presence in Kaliningrad, a Russian Baltic coast enclave located between NATO and European Union members Poland and Lithuania, including nuclear-capable missiles, its Baltic fleet and tens of thousands of soldiers.

7:56am: Nord Stream sabotage not an attack on Sweden, foreign minister says

The suspected sabotage against the Nord Stream gas pipelines does not constitute an attack on Sweden, Foreign Minister Ann Linde told SVT public television on Wednesday.

7:37am: Italy's Meloni tells Ukraine it can count on her

Nationalist leader Giorgia Meloni, set to become Italy's next prime minister, has pledged her full support for Kyiv after receiving congratulations from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for her election victory.

In a Tweet late on Tuesday, a day after Meloni and her right-wing allies won a commanding parliamentary majority, Zelensky said he was looking forward to "fruitful cooperation with the new government".

Meloni replied swiftly. "Dear (Zelensky), you know that you can count on our loyal support for the cause of freedom of Ukrainian people. Stay strong and keep your faith steadfast!" she wrote in English on Twitter. Meloni has been one of the few Italian political leaders to wholeheartedly endorse outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi's decision to ship weapons to Ukraine, even though she was in opposition to his government.

6:19am: Canada to impose new sanctions on Russia over 'sham' referendums in Ukraine

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he intends to impose new sanctions over Russia's "sham" referendums in occupied regions of Ukraine. "Canada does not and will not ever recognise the results of these sham referendums or Russia's attempted illegal annexation of Ukrainian territories," Trudeau said in a statement.

2:59am: EU says 'sabotage' behind Baltic pipeline leaks

Sabotage is the most likely cause of leaks in two Baltic Sea gas pipelines between Russia and Europe, European leaders said Tuesday, after seismologists reported explosions around the Nord Stream pipelines.

European leaders and experts cited the possibility of deliberate interference with the pipelines amid an energy stand-off with Russia provoked by the war in Ukraine. Neither Nord Stream pipeline is currently supplying energy to Europe.

EU chief Ursula Von der Leyen said "sabotage" caused the leaks. She threatened the "strongest possible response" to any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure.

Denmark said earlier it believed "deliberate actions" by unknown perpetrators were behind big leaks in the two natural gas pipelines running under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.

FRANCE 24's Nick Spicer reports from Germany on the suspected sabotage.

11:24pm: Ukraine will 'defend its people' in regions of annexation vote, Zelensky says

Ukraine will "defend" citizens in regions which Russian authorities said voted overwhelmingly for a merger with Russia, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday.

"We will act to protect our people: both in the Kherson region, in the Zaporizhia region, in the Donbas, in the currently occupied areas of the Kharkiv region and in the Crimea," he said in a video posted on Telegram. "This farce in the occupied territory cannot even be called an imitation of referendums."

11:15pm: US asks UN Security Council to condemn Russia for 'sham' referendums in Ukraine

The United States will introduce a resolution at the United Nations Security Council condemning referendums held by Russia in occupied regions of Ukraine, the US Ambassador to the UN said on Tuesday.

The resolution, to be introduced jointly with Albania, will call on member states not to recognise any altered status of Ukraine and also obligate Russia to withdraw its troops, envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield said at a council meeting.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Security Council that the results were pre-determined as he called for Russia to be excluded from all international organisations and for new sanctions against Moscow.

"Russia's recognition of these sham referendums as normal, the implementation of the so-called Crimean scenario and another attempt to annex Ukrainian territory will mean that there is nothing to talk about with the president of Russia," Zelensky said in virtual remarks. The United States was also preparing a new round of sanctions against Russia should it annex Ukrainian territory and a $1.1 billion arms package for Ukraine that will be announced soon, US officials said.

China's Ambassador to the United Nations Zhang Jun told the meeting that isolation and sanctions would only "lead to a dead end".

10:14pm: 'So many' Ukrainians no longer have pro-Russian views

"Seen from Kyiv, I think that people here just think they're just making up the result - giving it, what, 98 percent in favour of annexation, at least in some of those regions," FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reported from the Ukrainian capital.

"Of course, there are some people in those areas of Ukraine who do support Russia, particularly in those parts of the Donbas that have been under de facto Russian occupation since 2014, and therefore have had access pretty much only to Russian media," Cragg continued. "But the anecdotal evidence that we get from southern Ukraine in particular, and the parts of the Donbas that have been occupied in recent months [...] is that there is very strong resistance to Russian occupation."

"I've spoken to so many people who say they used to have pro-Russian attitudes; they used to vote for pro-Russian political parties in Ukraine and they've changed their minds after seeing the brutality of the Russian army and this totally unjustified invasion of Ukraine."

10:07pm: 'Further escalation' on the cards from Russia

"Moscow's rhetoric will escalate as the annexation is being formalised, and of course this serves the purpose for Russians to formally annex and absorb these territories," said Natia Seskuria, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

"We have seen how - under what circumstances - these sham referendums have been held. And, in conjunction with this, we have heard some escalatory rhetoric from Dmitry Medvedev for example, the former president of Russia, reiterating basically Putin's claims about the nuclear threat. So as the results are being announced, I think the rhetoric will become tougher and will point at further escalation of this war."

9:21pm: Moscow's proxies in occupied Ukraine regions claim big votes to join Russia

Russian-installed officials in occupied regions of Ukraine reported huge majorities on Tuesday in favour of becoming part of Russia after five days of voting in so-called referendums that Kyiv and the West denounced as a sham.

Hastily arranged votes had taken place in four areas - the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, and to the south Zaporizhzhia and Kherson - that make up about 15% of Ukrainian territory.

Luhansk authorities said 98.5% of people there had voted to join Russia, based on 69% of ballots counted. In Zaporizhzhia, a Russian-appointed official put the figure at 93.1 % with the count now completed. while in Kherson the "yes" vote was running at more than 87%, according to the head of the voting committee.

Russia's Tass news agency said 93.95% in Donetsk region had voted in favour, with nearly 32% of the ballots counted.

Within the occupied territories, Russian-installed officials took ballot boxes from house to house in what Ukraine and the West said was an illegitimate, coercive exercise to create a legal pretext for Russia to annex the four regions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin could then portray any Ukrainian attempt to recapture them as an attack on Russia itself. He said last week he was willing to use nuclear weapons to defend the "territorial integrity" of Russia.

8:45pm: CIA warned Berlin about possible attacks on gas pipelines in summer

The CIA had weeks ago warned Germany about possible attacks on gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, German magazine Spiegel said on Tuesday, after gas leaks in Russia pipelines to Germany were reported.

The German government received the CIA tip in summer, Spiegel reported, citing unnamed sources, adding that Berlin assumes a targeted attack on Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines.

A German government spokesperson declined to comment, Spiegel added.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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